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Air quality concerns at the Australian Open - what contingency plans are in place?

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Australian Open

Image credit: Getty Images

ByMichael Hincks
14/01/2020 at 09:48 | Updated 14/01/2020 at 11:09
@MichaelHincks

Australian Open organisers faced a storm of criticism on Tuesday after Dalila Jakupovic retired from qualifying due to a coughing fit amid Melbourne's "hazardous" air quality levels.

With the bushfire smoke threatening to dominate headlines in the build-up to the main draw, which starts on January 20, we look at the Australian Open’s contingency plan after a difficult day for organisers.

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  • Eurosport to screen Rally for Relief on Wednesday
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Distressing scenes in Melbourne as player retires after smoke brings on coughing fit

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What happened on Tuesday?

Slovenia's Jakupovic was leading Stefanie Vogele 6-4 5-6 at Melbourne Park when she slumped to her knees suffering breathing difficulties.

Jakupovic told reporters she was fighting for breath before retiring, with the bushfire smoke leading to the air quality measuring “very unhealthy” in a graphic posted by world number five Elina Svitolina.

Meanwhile, a tweet from the City of Melbourne advised people to “try to stay indoors” with the air quality “hazardous”.

Jakupovic was not the only player struggling in the difficult conditions, with Bernard Tomic heard saying “I just can’t breathe” before using an inhaler provided by his doctor.

Tomic went on to lose to American Denis Kudla 7-6 (7-4) 6-3.

Bernard Tomic with an inhaler

Image credit: Getty Images

Is the tournament under threat from being cancelled?

The issue of air quality has put the tournament’s organisers firmly in the spotlight.

No statement has been made since Jakupovic’s retirement, with tournament director Craig Tiley stating before that conditions had improved “during the period of when we suspended practice and restarted the matches”.

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Tiley added last week that the “forecast is good” for the tournament, with “meteorological and air quality experts onsite to analyse all available live data and assess in real-time the air quality at Melbourne Park”.

"We don't expect any delays and we've implemented additional measures to ensure the Australian Open will be able to run as scheduled,” he added.

What contingency plans are in place?

A number of posts from the Australian Open’s official Twitter account last week highlighted their plans should air quality affect the schedule.

Replying to concerned supporters, the Australian open stated:

The #AusOpen has 3 roofed-stadiums and 8 indoor courts at Melbourne Park. In the unlikely case of extreme smoke conditions, the roofs will be closed on the 3 stadium courts and play will continue in their air-conditioned, air-filtered environment.
If smoke infiltrates the 3 stadium courts. the air conditioning system will filter it out.

It is unclear what action could potentially take place on the eight indoor courts, but Tiley added last week that it gives them the capacity for a “weather-proof” Australian Open.

"We are very fortunate to have three roofed-stadiums and eight indoor courts at Melbourne Park. For a number of years this has allowed us to effectively weather-proof the Australian Open," said Tiley.

"While the conditions we are currently facing are unusual, they are nothing compared to the suffering so many across Australia are experiencing at the moment. Our whole team is committed to using our events, including the Australian Open, to raise funds as part of the efforts to help these communities."

Among those fundraising events is the Rally for Relief on Wednesday, which will be live on Eurosport and the Eurosport Player.

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